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December 26, 2012
Grain sorghum ethanol enters RFS program
Grain sorghum ethanol enters RFS program

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and the Kansas Department of Agriculture welcomed the boost to the state economy provided by a U.S. EPA final rule that concludes that lifecycle assessment of GHG emissions associated with the manufacture and use of grain sorghum ethanol meet the criteria for including it as a renewable fuel under the federal renewable fuels standard (RFS).  

“Kansas is the top sorghum-producing state in the nation,” said Brownback in a statement.  “Not only is sorghum a high-quality feed source for livestock producers, but it is a critical nonfood feedstock for ethanol plants across our state, where 60 percent of ethanol is produced from grain sorghum.”

20 percent GHG reduction

The RFS requires the United States to produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022, with an increasing requirement for renewable fuels from noncorn sources.  To qualify under the RFS, a renewable fuel must achieve at least a 20 percent reduction in lifecycle GHG emissions compared to the baseline petroleum fuel it would replace.  To qualify as a biomass-based diesel or advanced biofuel, the lifecycle reduction must be at least 50 percent.  The reduction must be 60 percent for cellulosic biofuel. 

“Lifecycle GHG emissions” are defined as the aggregate quantity of GHG emissions (including direct emissions and significant indirect emissions, such as significant emissions from land use changes) related to the full fuel lifecycle, including all stages of fuel and feedstock production and distribution, from feedstock generation or extractions through the distribution and delivery and use of the finished fuel to the ultimate consumer, where the mass volumes for all GHGs are adjusted to account for their relative global warming potential. 

In March 2010, the EPA issued a final rule that focused on lifecycle analyses of fuels that are anticipated to contribute relatively large volumes of renewable fuel by 2022.  At that time the Agency stated that it would continue to examine RFS pathways for lower-volume fuels, including ethanol made from grain sorghum. 

Natural gas and biogas

The EPA ran two scenarios to calculate the lifecycle GHG emissions of grain sorghum ethanol.  One scenario used an annual production of 200 million gallons, the amount of grain sorghum ethanol currently produced in the United States.  The second case estimated the lifecycle GHG emissions from an annual production of 300 million gallons, the amount the EPA expects will be produced in 2022.  Overall, the Agency states that it found that grain sorghum has an estimated lifecycle GHG emissions reduction of 32 percent when produced at dry mill ethanol facilities that use natural gas and 52 percent when produced at dry mill ethanol facilities that use only biogas for process energy and purchase/receive from an off-site supplier 0.15 kWh of electricity per gallon of ethanol produced. 

Heavy lobbying

Fuels, including grain sorghum ethanol, in the RFS program earn renewable identification numbers (RINs) provided they meet all requirements of the program (e.g., the fuel is produced from renewable biomass as defined by the EPA and it is used to reduce or replace the quantity of fossil fuel present in transportation fuel, heating oil, or jet fuel).

Governor Brownback’s lobbying efforts to prompt entry of grain sorghum ethanol into the RFS program included a recent letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, direct conversations with EPA officials expressing the importance of this pathway for Kansas, and an invitation to Jackson and her staff to visit Kansas ethanol plants that use sorghum grown by Kansas farmers to produce ethanol. 

The final federal rule discussing the GHG lifecycle assessment for grain sorghum ethanol was published in the December 17, 2012, FR.

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